As a mere matter of fact, Nurse was no witch, nor had she, of her own will and knowledge, done Balder any harm. On the contrary, she was already at work, with trembling hands and painfully thumping heart, to relieve his sad case. She was touched and agitated to a singular degree. It was not the first time in the patient’s life that she had tended him. The reader has guessed her secret,—that she had known Balder before he knew himself, and cared for him when his only cares had been to eat and sleep. She knew her baby through his manly stature and mature features, less from his likeness to his father than from certain uneffaced traces of infantine form and expression. She was of gypsy blood, and had looked on few human faces since last seeing his. He did not recognize her until some time afterwards. All things considered, it was hardly possible he should do so.
It was curious to observe how awkwardly she now managed emotions that had once flowed but too readily. She was moved by impulses which she had long forgotten how to interpret. Her only outlet for tenderness was her solitary eye, which might well have given way under the strain thus put upon it.
But by and by the inward heat began to thaw the stiff outward crust, which had been hardening for so many years. Glimpses there were of the handy, affectionate, sympathizing woman, emerging from fossilization. Her withered heart once more hungered and thirsted, and the strange duality tended to melt back again into unity.
Balder’s attack at length yielded, and a drowsy consciousness returned, memory and reason being still partly in abeyance. His heavy, half-closed eyes rested on darkness. A crooning sound was in his ear,—a nursery lullaby, wordless but soothing. Where was he? Had he been ill? Was he in his cradle at home? Was Salome sitting by to watch him and give him his medicine? Yes, very ill he was, but would be better in the morning; and meanwhile he would be a good boy, and not cry and make a fuss and trouble Salome.
“Nurse,—Sal!—I say, Sal!”
Salome bent over him as of old.
“Had such a funny dream, Sal! dreamt I was grown up, and—killed a man! What makes you shake so, Sal? it wasn’t true, you know! And I’m going to be a good boy and go to sleep. Good night! give a kiss from me—to—my—little—”
So sinks he into slumber, profound as ever wooed his childhood; his head pillowed in Salome’s lap, his funny dream forgotten.
We pick up another thread.
Darkness and silence reigned in the conservatory; the group of the sleeping man and attendant woman was lost in the warm gloom, and scarcely a motion—the low drawing of a breath—told of their presence.